Sivaguru is a leading member of the bar and commanded huge practice. A much sought-after lawyer, his office at his sprawling home was always crowded with litigants. Known for his legal acumen, brilliance in exposition of cases and a track of successful outcomes even his colleagues in the bar hesitated to take up cases when he was representing the other side.
The success in his career and the wealth it brought did not affect him. He chose his cases on the basis of their merit and challenge they offered and not on the remuneration they brought. He was such a kind hearted and a compassionate person that quite often the members of the bar would wonder when he argued with fervour cases of litigants who seemed very poor. All these qualities of head and heart earned him the high esteem of the judges.
Natesan, his son in his early twenties worked as an apprentice in his office after finishing his graduation in law. There were several other juniors too under the senior lawyer. Saturdays were usually very busy with many clients coming after prior appointment. The senior generally avoided professional work on Sundays keeping the day for family. It was Natesan who checked the register of appointments and allowed the clients access to the lawyer generally in the order of appointments.
It was one Saturday there were half a dozen or more cars in the compound and the hall had already a few clients with registered appointments waiting for their turn. There was also an old person in late seventies with ash marks on his forehead and unshaved brittle hair on his face seated in a corner of the visitors’ lounge. He was in crumpled khadi dhoti that was worn in traditional manner passing through the legs, an unpressed half-sleeves khadi kurta with a yellow cloth bag in his hands. He looked a rustic from a village in appearance.
“Have you registered for an appointment already? What is your good name?” asked Natesaan.
“No, I am no client but know Sivaguru personally very well. I would not take more than a few minutes. Just inform him that Paramasivam is wanting to meet him for a short time,” he said.
Natesan was not impressed assuming the old man to be one of the many who came to seek alms or donations for some temple or charitable causes. He chose not to inform the senior lawyer about this man but sent one after the other the waiting clients. A bearer from inside the house brought a tray with cups of coffee for the visitors. Natesan saw the old man gently decline.
“Could you mention to Sivaguru about my waiting here to meet him? I have to return to my village for an urgent work,” asked the old man after waiting for long time.
“Don’t you see so many clients with important cases are waiting after fixing appointment? You have no appointment and will have to wait for your turn,” Natesan replied somewhat curtly.
It was then Sivaguru the senior lawyer chanced to come out to the hall along with important looking client to see him off. When he heard Natesan talking brusquely to someone, he turned to see what was happening. As soon as he saw Paramasivam, he left the client abruptly and came rushing to Paramasivam with the palms together on his chest and his head and body bent in reverence.
“Ayya, (respectful form of addressing) how long have you been waiting? Should you not have walked inside directly? You could have at least sent word through Natesan."
“You are a busy man with many clients waiting for you. I did not want to intrude and was prepared to wait for my turn. I am very happy to see you having successful practice. I came to the town on some pressing work and thought of spending a few minutes before returning,” Paramasivam replied without mentioning about the long wait for nearly two hours.
Sivaguru held his hand to take him inside the house and turned to the waiting clients to tell, “I have a venerable family friend visiting me after long years and wish to spend time with him. Kindly come back at 4pm and I will meet you all today itself. Please bear with me.”
When the two were seated in the large living room, Sivaguru along with his wife and children prostrated before him seeking his blessings. He requested the old man to have his lunch with him. After lunch, they were closeted alone for two hours discussing about the village, the bygone days and about the urgency of the renovation of the lake and the local Shiva temple.
At 3.30pm when the old man took leave, the senior lawyer instructed his driver to drop him at his village about 50 miles away. Along with Natesan he walked up to the car to see him off. The old man before entering the car, pulled Natesan towards him, gently patted him with a smile and made a passing remark, “Learn to be like your father. You will be as successful as he is.”
During dinner with family that night, Sivaguru turned to Natesan in and remarked, "Do not be carried away by appearances or external appurtenances like apparel, jewels or car. Great people are humble and rarely flaunt. He owns three fourths of my village and lands in other places too. A god fearing and kind-hearted man as he is, I would have been struggling in life but for his compassion and munificence.” After a pause he wiped his eyes and continued,” My father, a small farmer with limited ancestral land living in the same street as his, died young suddenly. It was this gentleman who took care of our family tilling our lands, educating me till I equipped myself to be a lawyer and ensuring that we lived financially in comfort. He gifted me with a motorbike when I started attending college. I am today what I am solely because of my revered benefactor.”
With remorse for his rude behaviour, Natesan confessed to his father, “Sorry appa, I acted rather foolishly thinking he was a supplicant come to seek alms and made him wait unfairly and unduly for a long time. I even ignored his request to inform you about his desire to meet you for a few minutes. He could have protested or revealed who he was but chose to be silent.”
Sivaguru patted his back and said “Appearances are deceptive. The truly great are silent and do not react as we do. The respect you give to them should be the respect you would wish for if you were similarly placed. Fairness in dealings and compassion to all especially to the disadvantaged are the two virtues you must adhere to always in your life.”
A chastened Natesan fell flat before him and clutching his legs pleaded, "Forgive me, appa.I have leant a valuable lesson today and I promise to follow your advice,"
"Good, though I would be at peace only after a slight punishment for your rude behaviour today. I would ask one of the other apprentices to look after from Monday the register of appointments and letting in the clients to my room,"Sivaguru said softly but firmly.
“Treat everyone with politeness and kindness, not because they are nice, but because you are.”